18 years old, first car, what do I look for?

Eighteen years old

Living on my own

Full time job

Will only drive to college/work

What I want to do is potentially find the BEST new car that I could possibly get, and then buy that same make/model that’s about a year or two old to compromise on the costs so for now let’s assume this is new.

Now when it comes to the cost of car, does cheap price mean poor quality and likely to break down? At what price range is quality assured?

I’m looking at a four door coupe/sedan such as:

Subaru Legacy

Hyundai Elantra

Chevy Aveo

Mitsubishi Lancer

Are these good bad? Should I steer clear of these lower priced cars? What add-ons, safety features are absolutely necessary?

Your list is good. I’d add Honda, Nissan, and Toyota as well. I’d look for a 3 - 4 year-old model, reasonable miles, one owner, all service records and no accidents. Take it to an independent specialist for a pre-purchase inspection. Around $10,000 buys a decent used Asian car these days. Go cheaper and you will spend more on repairs, spend more and depreciation becomes a bigger cost of ownership.

Good luck!


Your strategy is good, overall.

However, I strongly suggest that you drop the Chevy Aveo from your list.
As Consumer Reports has noted on more than one occasion, this model rides and handles poorly, accelerates poorly, and is not even very economical for a car with this small an engine. Its reliability is “much worse than average”.

Additionally, it is noisy, “poorly finished”, and has uncomfortable seats. As CR summed it up–there is really nothing to recommend this car, other than a tight turning circle. Unless your goal is to constantly make U-turns on narrow streets, you would be far better-off with…anything else.

Incidentally, last year, GM sold a very small number of Chevy Aveos that had been re-badged as the Pontiac G3. Don’t be fooled by the different nameplate and slightly different trim. It is the same horrid little car as the Chevy Aveo.

I recommend that you buy a copy of either the Consumer Reports New Car Buyers Guide or their Used Car Buyers Guide. These guides contain capsule reviews of everything that is available in the US market, and comparisons of cars in the same size/price class, as well as historical reliability ratings for most makes and models. (Note: Because so few Mitsubishi Lancers have been sold in the last few years, it is not possible to get reliability ratings for that model.)

Based on Safety Ratings alone, it looks like the Subaru Legacy is the only one that stands out.

instead of an Aveo, look at Cobalt or Malibu

Steven, How Much Money Have You Saved With Which To Purchase The Car ? How Much Do You Want To Spend ?

I hope you don’t have a college loan. If you do then get it paid off ASAP.

I’m going to give you some good advice. Others will tell you to finance a car and make payments. You’re eighteen and starting with a clean slate. Pay cash for the car even if it means buying a cheap “starter” car and then continuing to save for a nicer one.

Are you willing to do any maintenance or repairs yourself ? That can save you a small fortune over your lifetime.

Many people in this country are in trouble because they start right out living beyond their means. Don’t fall to the temptation.

My first car was poor quality and broke down once in a while. I still got to college and work. It helped teach me how to repair and maintain it. That was my station in life and I was living within my means. It was a character builder. My next car was brand new and I paid cash. That’s what I’ve done ever since.


CSA has given you some very good advice. I didn’t own a car until I started my graduate work. This car cost me $75 but it got me where I was going. Don’t be too fussy about the make of the car. Have several cars in mind. Also, take your time. When I started a job and went shopping for a car back in 1965, I purchased a 1965 Rambler with 7000 miles and the balance of the warranty for $1750. I thought I had made a good purchase until 2 months later. My parents bought another house. The owner was retiring and offered to sell me his 1963 Ford Fairlane (this was an intermediate car back then about the same size as the Rambler I bought). I could have purchased the Farilane for $1000 and it had been driven less than 10,000 miles. Had I waited, I would have been $750 ahead–quite a chunk of change for 1965.

Stevendic; you are approaching this the right way. Many kids going to college want a flashy sports car, not realizing that the insurance alone will take all you dating money!

I would drop the Aveo from the list and SUBSTITUTE the Hyundai Accent. This is an excellent little car, easy on gas and unlike Honda or Toyota, a 2 year old one with low mileage wil cost you very little. I would get the hatchback, since it has a very flexible cargo arrangement with the backseat down.

I bought my first car in second year college at age 19, it cost me $125 for a 9 year old Chevy.

Make sure a mechanic checks over any car you buy.

If you want a Chevrolet on the list, drop the Aveo and put the Cobalt on it. You can find a 2-year old (2008) Cobalt LT1 with an auto transmission for about $10,000. We have a 2009 and the only thing I don’t like about it is the electric steering. It works well when you are on the road, but it binds up if you turn it lock-to-lock too many times when parallel parking. The cure is to turn the car off and restart it. I consider it a minor annoyance and my kids don’t complain about it at all. One child did complain about it when she was practicing parallel parking for her driver’s test, but only then. As a comparison, you’d have to buy a 2004/2005 Honda Civic EX before the price gets to $10,000.

jtsanders, you should have received the anticipated recall letter regarding Cobalt power steering several weeks ago. They will replace the electric motor. Meanwhile, the worst you can anticipate is loss of steering assist until a restart, of more significance at low speeds, which to anyone who drove a car without power steering is little to worry about unless you have unusually weak arms.

I would add Chevrolet Cavalier to the list. I drove one for over 130K miles with no repairs except a couple of recalls and the usual, brake disks, brake pads, oil and air filters etc and one rusted, leaky gas tank after 10 years that I replaced myself. I never have any luck with what I buy agreeing with what Consumer Reports says.

To the OP: you can buy a car that CR says should not break for a larger price than a car that they say will break but will cost you less and may after all, not break, saving you money. Also, beware of cars with rubber timing belts. These cost big money to replace and often come with CR recommended cars.

Wha Who, I Agree With Your Statement, “I never have any luck with what I buy agreeing with what Consumer Reports says.” I’ve Been A Subscriber For Decades (Pay 5 Years At A Time).

Testing vs. Surveys

I use CU for toasters, coffee makers, TVs, and the like (based on laboratory testing), but when it comes to cars my experience has been that some of my best cars have made their “cars to avoid” list. I can name many of them. Some cars that are rated highly litter this site with problems and unhappy owners. What’s up with that ?

Keep in mind that these car reliability recommendations are based on reader surveys. No offense, but we’ve seen how car savvy some of these readers are. Also, I believe a leaking valve cover gasket carries the same weight as a broken crankshaft in these surveys when put in the engine reliability category, for example.

The good news is that CU helps keep the prices down on some of our favorite “best kept secret” used car buys !


Consumer Reports’ sample is biased. It reflects the opinions of its subscribers. Those who do not subscribe to Consumer Reports may have different opinions. Furthermore, I don’t think Consumer Reports gets a 60% or better return on its surveys. The people who do return the survey may have a different opinion than those who do not.

I once owned a 1971 Ford Maverick. I could have purchased a Mercury Comet with an identical engine and drivetrain. The cars were almost identical except for the trim. Yet, in 1975, the Ford Maverick had a poor repair record and the Mercury Comet had an acceptable record. I wrote to Consumer Reports and questioned this. Consumer Reports answered that this was the way the data came out. My question was “Why did the data come out this way?” I finally found the answer in reading a survey article in Popular Mechanics magazine where the owners of Ford and Mercury twin cars were surveyed. When I looked at the demographic data, the average age of the Mercury owner was about 7 years above that of the Ford owner. I think that the discrepancy in the repair ratings of the Ford Maverick and Mercury Comet was probably due to the age of the owner rather than a difference in the cars. My Ford Maverick rode like a wheelbarrow, had an interior that made a school bus look luxurious, but it was reliable. I finally traded the car because I was spending more on Preparation H from driving the car than I was on maintenance of the car itself.

I subscribe to Consumer Reports. I use the ratings as a starting point, but I keep the sample problems in mind in using these ratings

Triedaq, I’m One Of The Owner’s Guilty As Charged For Not Returning The Survey Every Year. I Did Once, But I’ve Got Too Many Cars. Besides, They Don’t Reflect My Results, As I’ve Stated.

I do also admit to looking at the CU ratings, but look for trends rather than any concrete, specific information.

I research TSBs (Technical Service Bulletins) before buying a used car and also talk to mechanics at car dealers as a means to check on reliabilty and find potential problems to be especially aware of before purchase.

The techinicians in the field usually know “bullet proof” engines from “problematic” ones, for instance. This information has helped me on my last two car purchases. I have a couple of “Car Gurus” at dealers that I have befriended over the years.

Another thing, I suspect that owners of certain makes of cars are more “religious” about maintenance than others. Some VW owners were almost cult-like when coming to the dealer where I worked and absolutely had to have their little log stamped by the official VW dealer stamp. Also, I suspect that some makes tolerate sloppy maintenance better than others.

As you’ve pointed out there are so many variables involved in trying to qualify reliability.


With all its faults, I would still trust Consumer Reports. At least, if a car recommended by it would be a good one. (Meaning that the Reports could be biased and some good cars may not recommended.) When cars become really old, their condition tends to determine price rather than their initial value and age. You would be surprised to find Hyundai Elantra has consistently scored high but quite a bit cheaper than Honda or Toyota. Check one out at the library and go through it carefully taking notes.

I research TSBs (Technical Service Bulletins) before buying a used car and also talk to mechanics at car dealers as a means to check on reliabilty and find potential problems to be especially aware of before purchase.

I have my car serviced at a well established independent shop that services all makes of cars. The technicians have been in business a long time and know the weak points of many cars. I seek the opinion of the mechanics at this shop before I make a purchase. On my latest purchase, the proprietor of the shop and my wife ganged up on me and I bought a Toyota Sienna. My wife has had no problems with the Toyota 4Runner and the proprietor of the shop believes that the Sienna should be just as trouble free.

In addition to the purchase price, another piece of the affordability equation is the
" cost of ownership ".

Different cars, different prices.

license & registration
Anticipated maintainence ( tune-up, tires, timing belt )
un-anticipated maintainence. ( electronic controls, suspension )

You’re buying a used car. The miles on it now will determine how soon these things will need to be done.
Read up a little ( owners manuals, etc ) to see how soon YOU will be needing to shell out for some of these.
As a thirty five year parts man I’ve see many a cheap used car STUN the owners with the price of ;

  • tires ( "wow I never knew they were low profile high performance and I’d need them so soon. "
  • air suspension, automatic a/c, electric every thing etc.
  • tune up ( "yah, we gotta take off the intake manifold to get to those plugs. )
  • Timing belt.

Carefully consider the long term outlook for your best investment.

Even though it’s true that Consumer Reports uses the data from their subscribers rather than a random sample, and the response rate is not 100%, I believe it to still be the largest, most comprehsnsive, and most objective data available. I recommend that you spend yuor first few dollars on a CR Used (or new) Car Buyers’ Guide from the local bookstore and let that be your guide. It’ll significantly improve your odds of getting a reliable vehicle.